US colleges embrace online student services

U.S. campuses doubled their leap into modernized online student services platforms last year, signaling late adoption of essential change delayed by Covid and cost concerns, according to an analysis by the industry.

Years after the technology began spreading to other industries, at least 131 institutions in 2021 made the leap into modern cloud-based systems that fundamentally end reliance on paper forms or their online replications. relatively coarse line, up from just 66 in 2020, tech research firm Tambellini Group reports.

Such transformations seem inevitable in American higher education, said the organization’s chief executive, Vicki Tambellini, as students have grown accustomed in their lives to simple on-demand online interfaces, typically using their phones, which operate reliably and around the clock.

Yet the decision to go ahead remains a major hurdle for most universities, Ms Tambellini said, as initial implementation costs can range from $5m (£4m) to 10 million for medium-sized institutions, and many more on larger campuses, with those numbers multiplying rapidly in subsequent years.

Additionally, she said, once institutions begin to adopt advanced cloud integration to help their students sort, choose, register and organize their class choices, many other aspects of campus operations – in areas such as human resources and finance – quickly be bent on an even bigger decision.

Few larger campuses are still making that big leap, Ms. Tambellini said. But rising labor costs and a growing comfort with technology — along with, in many cases, federal pandemic relief money — now appear to have put decisive pressure on many small leaders. of campus, she said.

“When it was brand new to the market, colleges and universities were scared and nobody wanted to be first,” Ms. Tambellini said. Now, she said, “transforming the business of most institutions is not optional as people become a scarce resource.”

The Tambellini Group said it based its analysis on interviews and proprietary data from more than 3,600 US colleges and universities.

The 131 institutions that signed contracts last year for new student-facing systems were mostly smaller campuses and will only spend about $450 million in total over the next one to three years, according to the analysts.

Among large institutions, one of the more recent cautionary tales is Ohio State University, which late last year pulled out of its implementation with the services company Workday. . The State of Ohio acted after making an initial investment estimated at tens of millions of dollars, citing the surprisingly large “amount of change” it has proven necessary.

This case and others, Ms. Tambellini said, reflect the significantly higher complexity of building systems for large research universities, given their much more complicated mixes of workers, students and activities.

“Until these new solutions are more mature, it will be difficult for very large audiences to move forward, knowing how much the systems are going to cost them,” she said.